By Bp Paul Hewett
Ps. 52: 1-2, “Why boastest thou thyself, thou tyrant, that thou cant do mischief; Whereas the goodness of God endureth yet daily?”
When St. John Vianney was the Cure´d’Ars in 19th century France, an orphanage he founded had access to a granary. The nuns who took care of the orphans went to St. John Vianney one day to tell him that the granary was empty. The Cure´d’Ars told them to go back to the granary, and the nuns did, and upon returning to it, they found it full of grain. Christian hope is not wishful thinking or cheap optimism. Christian hope is the conviction that God is going to have His way.
Arthur Michael Ramsey, when he was Archbishop of Canterbury, had a way of answering people who often ask the question, “How does a good God allow so much suffering and hardship?” This is called the problem of evil. He turned the question on its head. “How can there be so much good, if there is no God?” The goodness of God endureth yet daily. It is His goodness which lasts. So we can be surprised by the good, and how much of it there is, and not just scandalized by the bad.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is teaching a large crowd of hungry people, and he asks the Philip a hard question: “Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” to solve a seemingly impossible problem. Philip answers the question logically, and Andrew steps in to present a lad who has a picnic lunch. Jesus knows what He is going to do, but He makes us face difficulty, hardship, pain, obstacles and suffering. We see our inadequacy without Him. Our faith is not to be cheap optimism but solid realism.
So the apostles acknowledge the boy’s picnic lunch and point to its small size. We have a tendency to give up too soon. Spain gave up in California in the 1840’s, just as gold was about to be discovered. If Spain had kept California just a year or two more, the west coast would be theirs today! After Pentecost there will be no more “buts,” “but what are they, the five loaves and two fish, among so many?”
God takes our gift and multiplies it out. “We make a living by what we earn, but we make a life by what we give.” Jesus whole life points to His ultimate sacrifice…the ultimate release of the ultimate life. He is the ultimate force multiplier. God is the one who makes things come out right in the end, but only as we face the Cross. Then the desert can become fruitful and blossom. “The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead shall also quicken our mortal bodies…” God is known as the Master of the Impossible. The feeding of the multitudes foreshadows the Resurrection … the impossible possibility. “The goodness of God endureth yet daily.”
Today Jesus gives us Himself as the Bread of Life. He takes what we offer, and gives us Himself. When we receive Him in Holy Communion, we receive all three Persons of the Trinity. In Jesus, God becomes our food. So when we face trouble and pain, He is with us and in us to help us carry it, and to redeem it, and to bless others by it. When Mother Teresa first went to Calcutta, it is said that she had 3 cents in her pocket. Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity. “The goodness of God endureth yet daily.”
Some religions, including secular humanism, seek to avoid pain, or to make one immune to pain, so that one will not feel pain. The Christian faith is not medicine for suffering, but a perspective to suffering. Go through it and out onto the other side, to transfiguration and resurrection. Our trials can make us spiritual alchemists. We learn to turn adversity into gold.
The pagan view is “if you are the Son of God, come down from the Cross.” The Gospel view is “because I am the Son of God, I remain on the Cross.” There is no other way to radiance, to spread so much light and life to the world. We kneel here in what Thomas Merton called “the tremendous poverty which is the adoration of God.”
A Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Lent, March 26, 2017 at 9 am at the
Cathedral Church of the Epiphany, Columbia, SC